Three astronauts successfully blasted off Monday to the International Space Station, a perfect launch following October’s cancelled mission.
NASA astronaut Anne McClain, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, and Oleg Kononenko of the Russian space agency lifted off as scheduled yesterday in Kazakhstan. Their Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft entered orbit just under nine minutes after the launch. It docked at the space outpost in about six hours—after making four orbits of the Earth.
McClain, Saint-Jacques, and Kononenko will spend more than six months doing research and experiments in biology, Earth science, physical sciences, and technology.
The three-person crew already aboard the space station eagerly awaited the new arrivals. Those astronauts are scheduled to return December 20, just in time to spend Christmas on Earth.
The families of the crew, other astronauts, and space officials from several nations breathed a sigh of relief after the flawless launch.
On everyone’s minds was October 11’s unsuccessful launch—when a Soyuz-FG rocket carrying NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin failed two minutes into flight. That activated an automatic rescue system that sent their capsule plunging back to Earth. Both men managed to emerge shaken but safe. (See “Astronauts Safe After Emergency Landing.”) A Russian investigation blamed a damaged sensor for the problem. Russian space officials have taken measures to prevent a repeat of such incidents.
The accident was the first aborted crew launch for the Russian space program since 1983, when two Soviet cosmonauts safely jettisoned after a launch pad explosion.
The Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle that can ferry crews to the space station. But Russia could lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner crew capsules.
If I ascend to the heavens, You are there; . . . Your hand will guide me; Your right hand will hold me fast. — Psalm 139:8, 10
(Astronauts Anne McClain, left, Оleg Kononenko, center, and David Saint Jacques, members of the crew to the International Space Station. AP Photo)